After an hour’s delay due to a blocked road from a landslide (and a broken-down backhoe), our jeep delivered us to where we would begin the hike. Our troupe included six international guests plus Amar, WIN’s native coordinator of Nepal, and me. A few local church members had also hiked out from the village that morning to meet us and help carry water. This wasn’t just any Himalayan trek. It was a trek with a purpose! There was a sense of expectancy and adventure! Each participant got themselves ready - backpacks, walking sticks, and cameras, “Has everybody got at least one full bottle of water?” I queried. Amar was on top of the jeep unloading more water since we would be staying the night in the village. The guests had all become fast friends in our few days together. Ages ranged from 23 to 70 and included people who had had hip replacements and multiple knee surgeries. But, they were experienced hikers or very fit. They were game to take on the hill!
Following a winding footpath, we made our way down the mountain. Ahead lay a valley so steep that the bottom couldn’t be seen. On the far side was our destination. Amar planted himself downhill for any guest who appeared unsteady as they navigated the steep slopes. At the bottom of the gorge, we crossed on a steel bridge that spanned a gushing glacial river (a river in which, on the way back, some of us would take a swim). Mom’s chocolate chip peanut butter raisin cookies and dried peaches were the favorite snacks toted in my backpack.
Then we began the climb up the other side. Everyone was in good spirits and focused not so much on the hike itself but on the exciting purpose for which we were all climbing this mountain to provide 120 hygienic wood cook stoves to families who have suffered in smoky houses their entire lives from open cooking fires. Some described me as “a jackrabbit” as I often bounded ahead with my six-foot selfie stick or up a nearby slope to capture photos of the group.
After around three hours going up, we burst out upon civilization and the bazaar area that served several villages. There, we were met by our local pastor of this area. I was so thrilled to see him after several years. He has been our disciple since around the year 2000, when we provided his Bible training. He returned to his home territory and was the first to plant churches in this unreached region. Our yummy lunch at a small “dhaba” included indigenous brown rice, “local kukura” (village chicken) cooked in succulent spices, and lush green “saag” vegetables. But the adventure was about to begin!
From there, the village chief accompanied us, along with many happy children. After a short walk, the village chief pointed out a sizable concrete building, clearly different from the ragtag wood and rough-brick shops and homes. This was the government center for this region. Amar had arranged for our stoves to be transported here ahead of time. Coming around the side of the building were village men each playing the indigenous Himalayan drum. They drummed in unison, coming out across the edge of the hillside. People had already begun to gather for the stove distribution. When they arrived, we were garlanded with scarves in the traditional native welcome, and serenaded. After some of us shared brief speeches, those appointed began to carry the stoves out of the building, and our guests had the joy of helping each villager hoist their stoves onto their backs!
Their faces show their joy! Not only will the stoves end their persistent asthma and other illnesses from constant smoke inhalation, but the stove also provides a hotter fire with less firewood, overall more efficient. There are still 210 homes in this area without stoves. WIN’s initiative has activated the local government, which has offered to come alongside WIN by contributing 30% of future stove costs plus transportation.